Footnotes, St Mary’s Church, Clydach

Footnotes, St Mary’s Church, Clydach

St Marys Church has changed little in its structural appearance since being built at the beginning of the 20th Century. The foundation stone which can be seen in the Entrance Porch was laid on Thursday 24 November 1904. The heraldic shield in the foundation stone is that of the Diocese of St Davids, a reminder that the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon had not been created when the Church was built.

The Fleur de Lys in the foundation stone is the symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Fleur de Lys can be seen elsewhere in the building.

The church was designed by Bruce Vaughan, FRIBA, and was built by Bennett Bros., of Heathfield Yard, Swansea. It was built in a simple Gothic style, copying the architecture of the 12th to the 16th centuries.

The church was consecrated on Thursday 26 October 1905 by the then Bishop of St Davids, the Right Rev John Owen. The occasion is commemorated in some of the furniture, notably the lectern and font. There is a reminder of the period during which the church was built and consecrated in the shape of two carvings on the Chancel Arch. On the North Side, there is a carving of a Bishop John Owen. On the south side, there is a carving of a King Edward VII, monarch at this time.

The pillar carvings

Amongst the stone carving around the Nave, there are four carvings worth noticing. On each of the corner pillars, the Four Evangelists are depicted with the symbols of the Evangelists immediately below them. On the North East pillar St John is depicted with an eagle. On the South East pillar St Matthew is depicted with a man. On the South West pillar St Mark is depicted with a lion. On the North West pillar St Luke is depicted with an ox. The wings on each figure bring to mind the winged creatures of Ezekiel chapter 1.

The reredos

Behind the altar, there is the reredos, which is entirely composed of Derbyshire alabaster. In the centre of the reredos is a representation of the Last Supper. The moment chosen is when Judas is leaving the Upper Room on the night of the betrayal. The figures of the 12 Apostles are arranged from left to right as follows: St Bartholomew; Judas; St Philip; St Matthew; St Jude; St James (The Less); Our Lord (the central figure); St John; St James; St Simon the Zelote; St Thomas; St Andrew and St Peter.

The single figures in the niches are Moses in the upper niche on the North Side; St Paul in the lower niche on the North Side; the prophet Isaiah in the upper niche on the South Side; the prophet Elijah in the lower niche on the South Side. Moses holds the Tables of the Law. St Paul is pointing to the cross, Isaiah is with a scroll and Elijah with his uplifted hand is supposed to be uttering his lament. Over the heads of Moses and Isaiah are symbols of the four Evangelists. Over the head of St Paul is the “Shield of Faith”, on one side and on the other side a coil of rope with a tent peg. Over the head of Elijah are Ravens with food for him. On either side are the Commandments Panels, and over these are Angels holding shields bearing the symbols Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying - Rev. 1. 8. The Carving around the Commandment Panels is founded on the Vine. Worked in with this above the panels are birds feeding their young, and a swallow and other birds building their nests, a reference to the words of Psalm 84. At the sides of the same panels and worked in with the carving, about 6 feet above the floor on the North Side, perches a Nightingale singing its evening Hymn of Praise; and in the Carving on the South Side is a Lark soaring and singing its morning Doxology.

The east window

The East Window (above the altar) depicts the theme of the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven as described in Acts 1: 9-11. Immediately beneath the Saviour are the two figures in white, who addressed the disciples with the words: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus shall so come in the manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.” - Acts 1: 11. In the side lights the Apostles are grouped, and where practicable, the identity suggested by the customary symbols; in the upper portions are groups of cherubs holding scrolls charged with the fruits of the Spirit, viz. : Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness, Temperance (from Galatians 5: 22).

Both the reredos and the east window were installed in 1921 and were the gift of John Player, a local industrialist, in memory of his wife and son.

The west window

This window at the west end of the church (please go upstairs to fully appreciate it) depicts a communion service in the trenches of France during the First World War. At the time of the installation of the window, it was believed that the window was amongst the very first to depict soldiers in their khaki uniforms. The side lights of the window also depicted classical warriors representing Justice and Truth. The coats of arms in the window tell the story of the life of the young soldier John Ynys Palfrey Jones, son of Dr and Mrs Jones of “Penybanc”, in Twyn y Bedw Road. The window was given in the son’s memory. At the top there is the Cross of St George, below this the Welsh Dragon, and below this the Prince of Wales’ Three Feathers, all pointing to military service.

On the left hand side, there is the coat of arms of the Diocese of Llandaff, and below this, the coat of arms of Cambridge University. On the right hand side, there is the coat of arms of Blundell’s Public School, Tiverton, and below this, the coat of arms of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge. The story unfolds as follows: The young John Ynys Palfrey Jones was a pupil at the Cathedral School, Llandaff, before continuing his education at Blundell’s. Whilst at Blundell’s he sat an entrance examination for Cambridge University. He intended to become a medic, but enlisted in Cambridge and entered the Welsh Regiment. He was killed in action whilst leading his men into battle at Morval, France. He was 20 years of age. Therefore, the window tells the story of his life and of the hopes that the war took from him.

The south aisle windows

There are three stained glass windows on the south side of the nave. That nearest the entrance is commemorates the fallen of the First World War. All the quotations in the window come from the letter of Ephesians chapter 6 verses 10-17. In this window the left hand figure is a warrior and the right hand figure is an angel.

The middle window depicts the Epiphany as it is found in Matthew chapter 2, and is in memory of Thomas Morris, sometime vicar of Clydach, who died in office. The inscription “All kings shall fall down before him” comes from Psalm 72 verse 11. A careful examination of the Magi shows that they are all of different ages and from different parts of the world. The implicit message of the artist is that everyone must acknowledge the Christ child as the Saviour. In Christian art, the swallow is a symbol of the Passion of our Lord. The birds also point us to the swallows finding a home around the Temple of Jerusalem, symbolising that Jesus is now the one to whom all come to worship God. Birds in flight could also be symbolic of the Flight to Egypt after the Magi had departed.

The third window depicts St John the evangelist (whose symbol is an eagle) and St Peter (whose symbol is the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven). They both hold books, representing their writings in the New Testament. Peter and John were the first witnesses of the empty tomb on the day of the resurrection, and this is why these two Apostles are often pictured together. The depiction of a church built on a rock calls to mind Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, on which Jesus said, he would build his church.

The Centenary Banners

The banners which adorn the pillars in the nave were created to mark the centenary of St Mary’s Church in 2005. A group of skilled parishioners designed and produced the four large banners under the direction of Mrs Viv Lewis of Sketty. Their theme is the seasons of the year and the church seasons. The details of the four banners are as follows:

Spring/Easter: Christian symbols on the banner are Calvary and the empty tomb at Easter. There are blossoms on a thorn hedge representing the crown of thorns. Lillies represent the Blessed Virgin Mary. The hare is an ancient symbol of Christ, as it was often thought the hare lived completely in the open air. In the same way, Jesus had nowhere permanent to live during his ministry. Sheep in the fields represent the people of God and the daffodils the people of Wales. An anenome represents the Trinity and the sufferings of ChriSt There are also primroses and bluebells.

Summer/Pentecost: Christian symbols on this banner are a butterfly representing the Holy Spirit (and also purity and peace). There are lupins, delphiniums, foxgloves and hollyhocks, the colours of which represent the tongues of fire at PentecoSt The sun is a symbol of Christ and a Passion Flower is also in the banner.

Autumn/Harvest: This banner depicts wheat and bread; ploughed fields after harvest and poppies for Remembrance timde. Michaelmas daisies represent one of the other churches in the parish dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, since these banners were produced by the work of the whole parish. There are also fruits and fungi depicted in the banner.

Winter/Christmas: St Mary’s is depicted in this banner. A star is over the manger, the Magi are on their travels and a spider’s web represents one of the legends about the Flight into Egypt. Ice, snow, snowdrops, a rainbow, and holly and ivy are also shown in the banner.

With thanks to parish warden Michael Diment and to Chris Bowen, of the Clydach Historical Society